Equity in ELT – who do we need to convince? by Kenneth Arnold

I fully support TEFL Equity advocates and want to fight discrimination, so I clicked on the link here about what we could do. One of the suggestions is to make a blog post about it, so here is my attempt.

Not discriminating against someone due to their place of birth seems such an obvious thing, I started wondering who we need to convince. Obviously we need to convince someone or it wouldn’t still be a problem. I have tried to narrow the situation down to four basic groups for the sake of simplification. I am speaking very generally here.

  1. Experienced teachers/Teacher Trainers: I’ll start with the category that I fall into. I’ve been involved in ESL for about 20 years now as have most of the people I work with and we have worked in a number of countries in Europe and Asia.

You only need to look around this blog or watch videos produced by all of the big names in this profession to see the support against discrimination. I personally don’t know of any teacher trainers who believe in native speakerism. This has no doubt come about through experience. Just working in this industry for any length of time will put you into contact with talented, qualified NNESTs. You can’t avoid them. And any teacher trainer will tell you there are strong and weak NNEST just like native speakers. NNESTs tend to have certain advantages, such as being about to empathize with their students. While you might occasionally find an experienced native teacher, teaching in isolation, who believes that “natives are the best”, it’s fairly clear that they have no real influence on the profession and for all intents are “flat-Earthers”.

So why are we spending time lecturing each other in conferences or by writing blogs trying to convince each other? It’s fairly clear you are preaching to the choir when it comes to convincing those who have experience in this area. I’m fully aware that anyone frequenting this blog doesn’t need any convincing.

  1. New/Pre-service teachers: A friend of mine did some research that demonstrated that new and pre-service teachers are much less likely to notice discrimination in general in our industry. This makes sense. Quite often this might come from marketing for TEFL courses (“If you can speak English, you can teach English.”) With native speakers, they are probably less likely to notice it because it is discrimination in their favour. Particularly if you are only planning on being in this profession for a short time, why not take advantage of it. And in general, more than anything, it could just be a lack of exposure/interest.

I know that for myself, as a young teacher all those years ago, I hadn’t really thought about it until I observed an experienced non-native at my school. She taught such a knowledgeable, organized lesson that I left feeling inadequate in my own teaching. Of course, it inspired me to try harder, learn more grammar and try to improve in many ways.

I see this on a monthly basis in my training courses. Native speakers are routinely convinced of non-native teachers’ effectiveness just by being around them, seeing them teach. Recently, I had a native speaker trainee, in the final week of the course, tell a Belgian trainee just how impressed with her he was, being able to do what he was doing, all in a second language. Evidence of a clear convert.

So while we can preach to new teachers about discrimination, you probably don’t need to hit them over the head with it. Just being around, working in the industry with NNESTs of ability should convince them. To be honest, new teachers are not involved in the hiring process anyway. So if they stay in the profession for any length of time and become an experienced teacher or trainer they should convert.

(Interestingly, NNESTs seem to not support each other on occasion. I remember at a conference, watching the eye-rolling of the audience of NNESTs when the next presenter with a clearly non-English sounding name was announced. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies)

  1. Language schools/Employers: It is pretty common to see Native Speaker clearly labelled among job adverts in any country it seems, quite often, almost without thought. (A local ad advertised “Real Native Speaker” as the first requirement. I wonder what prompted that the “real” be included? Of course, as a friend points out, it doesn’t specify “of English” so technically everyone is a “Native Speaker” of some language.)

In the EU, it is quite clearly against the regulations of discriminatory practice but still happens constantly. Most school owners will sheepishly shrug their shoulders and say that native speakers are what the clients demand.

Now why is this? In Prague, there is often a clear case of “Keeping up with the Jones’s”. Native speakers were once rarer therefore more prestigious to have. Students could boast, “I have an actual British teacher.” And feel better than their friends who were learning from a native Czech who had been teaching Russian up until everything changed. In the old days, teachers might be only a few units ahead of their students in the course books. Of course these days are long gone, but the hangover still remains.

While the language school owners’ answers might appear sheepish, they do strike at the heart of the matter. They are in a service industry and will do whatever the students demand. If, for some reason, students believed they were better taught by pink-haired female teachers with interesting dress sense, then you’d see hiring ads like “REAL pink haired teachers only.” In many ways, the owners are just following the market trends, like all businesses.

  1. Students: Which leaves us firmly in the lap of the students. For whatever misguided reasons, this myth is perpetuated by the clients. Theirs is the attitude which needs be changed to have any hope of ending the discrimination. As a former colleague once told me, “It all comes down to the students’ attitudes.”

And how do we change their attitudes? I’m open to ideas. Anyone? Anyone?

kenneth-arnoldKenneth Arnold has degrees in education and English and has worked in TEFL teaching and training since 1997. Originally from St. Louis, he completed his higher education with the Shenker TEFL certificate in Italy and the Cambridge DELTA. Kenneth has taught English in various countries including Malaysia, South Bohemia, Italy, Spain, and the U.S., in many academic settings. He currently works for TEFL Worldwide Prague. When not teaching or training, Kenneth enjoys history, reading, and spending time with his young daughters.

Brazilian English is beautiful by BrELT

The following video has been produced by BrELT (Brazil’s English Language Teachers), a Facebook community that fosters collaborative professional development among Brazil’s ELT professionals. The message is clear: “We are here. We are Brazilian. Deal with it.”

“Who are you talking to, though?” you may wonder.

Other Brazilians, believe it or not. Sadly, we needed to reaffirm our pride in being who we are not to the world, but to our fellow citizens.

Recently, a highly qualified Brazilian English teacher with a successful YouTube channel has been abused by a countryman saying she shouldn’t be recording because she’s from Brazil. Another famous Brazilian YouTuber said learning from native speakers is more cost-effective. In several other YouTube channels, Brazilians have mocked household names because of their accents in English.

What’s being revealed by the comfortable anonymity of internet comments is only the tip of the iceberg. Native-speakerism runs deep in this country, as it finds a fruitful field in our infamous shame of being Brazilian.

Representing almost 12,000 teachers, most of whom from Brazil, BrELT could not leave it at that and embarked on the Brazilian YouTubers’ campaign #AccentPride. Join us! No matter where you are from, record a video reaffirming your pride in your accent or showing your support to non-native English language teachers worldwide.

We are many. It’s time we made our voices (and accents) heard.

BrELT is a Facebook community for ELT professionals in Brazil and for those who wish to connect with us. You are welcome to join us at BrELT – Brazil’s English Language Teachers . For more information about our initiatives, which include online events, blog posts and the Brazilian counterpart to ELTChat, please check our blog here.

The people in the video are volunteer moderators in the community:

Bruno Andrade, one of the founders of BrELT, has a B.A. in English from UFRJ, the TKT and the CPE and is now working towards his Master’s in Applied Linguistics. In the industry for 15 years, he’s worked in online education and as a school coordinator in Rio de Janeiro.

Eduardo de Freitas is a teacher trainer for PBF Guarulhos. He holds the CAE, the TKT, and the CELTA and has been a teacher for seven years.

Ilá Coimbra is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and Cambridge Examiner based in São Paulo. In the field for 17 years, she has a B.A. in Languages from USP, the CPE, the CELTA and the ICELT.

Natalia Guerreiro works as an Aviation English teacher trainer and examiner in Sao Jose dos Campos. In ELT since the year 2000, she holds a B.A. in English from UFRJ, the TKT, the CELTA, the CPE, and an M.A. in Language Testing from Unimelb.

Priscila Mateini, based in Niteroi, holds a B.A. in Languages from UFF, a postgraduate degree in Linguistic Science (UPF), the TKT and the ECPE, as well a UDL Specialist course certificate from Harvard. With over 8 years of experience (4 years focusing on Special Education), she is now working towards her Master’s and helping schools adapt to children with Special Needs.

Ricardo Barros is a CELTA tutor and freelance teacher based in Jundiaí, who has been working in ELT since 2003. He holds a B.A. in History from Unicamp, the CPE, the CELTA, and the DELTA.

T. Veigga, who has being in the industry for 14 years, is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and materials designer who lives in Rio de Janeiro. He holds a B.A. in English from UFRJ and a post-graduate degree in Media Education (PUC-Rio).

Making job specifications more specific by Alex Moore

The fact that you’ve visited this website and are reading this tells me you probably don’t need convincing that “native-speakerism” is a myth that discriminates against thousands of qualified teachers, for whom English happens not to be their native language.

I’m also going to assume you’ve read Marek’s post about “native speaker only” job adverts, and his suggested write-back campaign.

Advertising for native speakers only is considered discriminatory by TESOL International or IATEFL, and a breach of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Writing back is an excellent way of reminding employers of this, and showing that teachers, of whatever background, care.

You can’t say “native speakers only” any more. However, there is a one-word dodge that could, potentially allow schools to continue the hiring practice.

Imagine you are the DoS or principal of a school where students, or their families, seem to prefer native speakers. You may know that academic opinion is against them on this, but it would be too hard to change their minds. You’re also worried that, if you tried, they might take offence or feel let down, and take their business to the school down the road who will tell them what they want to hear. TEFL Equity might be an admirable principle, but it’s a principle you can’t afford to have.

So you’d like to continue employing native speakers, but know you can’t explicitly advertise for them. You ask for native-level speakers instead. That one extra word send out the right message, “non-native speakers have a chance, if their English is good enough”, but retains all the power: “We decide who is native-level, and who isn’t”. A school could, covertly, still only hire native speakers. Instead of telling non-native applicants that they’re being turned down because of the crest on their passport, they could just say “Sorry, we don’t think your English is native-level”. End of chat.

This “native-level” phrase isn’t hard to find. Looking more or less randomly on the “International jobs board” at EslCafe.com, I found schools in Turkey and Russia that listed “NATIVE LEVEL”, in capitals, in the first line of their text. Another, in Hungary, asked for “native fluency” and one in Spain had a requirements list where, tellingly, “native level of English” was listed above “TEFL or CELTA”.

I found similar results at TEFL.com. A company that runs summer schools in the UK and elsewhere in Europe asked for applicants with an “English native level of competence” (sic), and similar phrases seem to be common throughout adverts for British summer schools. A full-time job advert in Poland, the country I currently work in, shouts that it wants an “ENGLISH NATIVE LEVEL SPEAKER” in the headline, though weirdly doesn’t mention this in the “qualifications” list later.

In all these cases, I have no idea what thought process lay behind the wording of the adverts. For all I know, these schools may give NNESTs a fair hearing, and may have many on their payroll. But, if I were a non-native, seeing that advert, I might still wonder: “Is there any point in applying for this?”

Also, all of these schools are in ECHR signatory countries, so are presumably aware of their Article 14 responsibility. Would they advertise for natives only, if they were legally free to do so? I don’t know, but we’re entitled to be suspicious.

So, inspired by the aforementioned write-back campaign against “native only” adverts, here is an alternative letter, aimed at the more widespread (in Europe) “native-level” phrase:

Dear __________,

I am writing in reply to your recent job advert for English teachers, posted at [web address].

Your advert lists “native-level” command of English as a requirement for candidates.

“Native-level” is a vague phrase. It is highly open to interpretation, both on the employers’ side and the potential applicants’. Many qualified teachers, for whom English happens to be a second language, might be put off from applying by this wording – a scenario where both parties potentially lose out.

As I’m sure you know, there are many ways of formally classifying language ability. If you specify a CEFR level, IELTS grade or Cambridge Suite exam grade, applicants will know the standard they are being judged against, and have an objective way of demonstrating their proficiency.

Furthermore, non-native speakers, as English teachers, can provide an inspiring example to your students, living proof that hard work, dedication and practice pay off. Compared to native speakers, they will also know the exam systems available to their students, having passed through one or more of them themselves.

Bearing this in mind, I hope you might consider amending the above-mentioned advert, and future adverts, to include a more precise phrase than “native-level”.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Regards,

This is not about telling schools who they should and should not hire. I am proud to say the company I currently work for requires candidates to have an IELTS band 8, or demonstrate a CEFR C2 level, and employers are perfectly entitled to set such high standards. But falling back on a weasel phrase like “native-level” is as good as not setting standards at all.

alex-mooreAlex Moore currently works in Poland. Before becoming an English teacher, he worked as a journalist for a local newspaper group in his native South Wales. After qualifying, his first spell abroad was in China, from 2011 to 2016 (“a six-month career break that got seriously out of hand”). During that time he played a key role in opening two new language school campuses in Chongqing and was appointed Foreign Teacher Manager by i2. Since then, he has worked at CSL in Swansea and is now at IH Bielsko-Biala.
Fun fact: In his very first placement in China, the school sent him back to the agency after three days, complaining he “stuttered too much”. Since then, his delivery has improved, or his DoSes have become more considerate, or both.

How the native speaker myth affects us all by Christina Lorimer

I was 22 years old when it occurred to me there was a problem.

By that time, I had a strong teacher identity and was actually quite adept at teaching. Growing up with parents who were public school teachers meant I didn’t spend 4 or even 8 hours a day at school but rather 10 or even sometimes 12. My childhood took place in a music classroom. My chores weren’t doing laundry or cleaning the bathroom but erasing the chalkboard, alphabetizing the songbooks, and organizing the chairs. My playmates were the stapler, the hole punch, the markers and the highlighters, and my babysitters were my mom’s students waiting in line to audition for a solo in the upcoming concert. I learned how to do fractions and percentages by adding up scores on music theory tests and how to give feedback by addressing student questions about their final grades after class. I was nine years old.

Around this time, my dad pursued his dream of becoming a biology teacher. His eyes lit up when he talked to students about the natural world, just like they did when he read me Bernstein Bears before bed, and he started doing science experiments and testing out his lesson plans at home. I died of embarrassment when my friends told me how he jumped up on tables and made up silly science songs in class, but I also intimately came to understand the concept of multiple identities, having to behave differently when my parents were “mom” and “dad” than when they were “teacher” or, later, when my dad was “principal”.

At twelve, I started doing choreography for my mom’s choir groups and regularly taught hundreds of high school students how to dance. Still today, whenever I feel unprepared for a class or nervous about teaching a new subject, I think back on my 12-year old self, standing on a platform in front of 200 high school boys, successfully teaching them how to jazz square and do a roll off. As a teenage female teacher, I had to develop thick skin and learn how to stay cool and collected in the classroom, even when I felt hurt or confused by student side comments.

So, as you can see, my teacher identity and skills developed early on.

Throughout my undergrad, I studied art and foreign languages. I also taught academic English for a year, doing one-on-one test preparation sessions at my university’s Learning Assistance Center. But I didn’t consider myself a trained English teacher and had never even heard of TESOL, ELT, EFL or any of the other million acronyms in our field. I certainly wasn’t familiar with expressions like “native speaker myth” or terms like NEST and NNEST. Even though I had been teaching most of my life, I was new to the field of English teaching. And although I felt very connected to my teacher identity, I hadn’t explored what it meant to be an English teacher.

After I graduated, I applied to a non-profit to be a volunteer English teacher at a rural elementary school in Costa Rica. Our group had a two-week training before arriving in our small communities to teach English for a year. The stakes were high. We were being sent to these particular schools because they were either too small or too poor to receive an English teacher from the government. When (or in many cases, if) students start high school in Costa Rica, they are expected to have at least a low-intermediate English level upon entry. So, if these children aren’t exposed to the language in elementary school and don’t build a strong English foundation, there is a high chance they flunk out of high school early on. The first day of training, I learned that out of 25 volunteers I was the most experienced and qualified English teacher. Something felt off about this.

And this was the first time I detected NEST issues and English teaching tourism.

It felt problematic that among a group of twenty soon-to-be English language teachers, I was the most experienced and qualified. I had only been an English tutor for a year. It felt problematic that a volunteer openly stated she decided to teach English in Costa Rica in order to learn Spanish and that another guy told me the program was his ticket into previously inaccessible surf spots on the coast. And while I understood my primary role was teaching English, I had to admit that I was there for other reasons too, like improving my Spanish and having a cultural experience. Something didn’t feel right, but I also wasn’t sure it was wrong. Americans teaching English abroad is so common and normalized that I didn’t dig deeper into those feelings.

But they came up again in my MA TESOL program. Although NEST/NNEST issues weren’t, unfortunately, an explicit part of our TESOL coursework, in a program where over half the students were new NNESTs, I became well-versed in the terminology. In my first graduate grammar course, the girl behind me was a whiz at syntax trees, and the girl in front of me asked really good questions I would’ve never thought of. These two tutored me throughout the semester and became my closest friends in the program. They were from Germany and Russia, respectively, and together we discovered NEST/NNEST issues. We would be at conferences (yes, TESOL conferences), and people would say to them, “I can’t believe you grew up in Germany, your English accent is so good!” (She has lived in the U.S. since she was 14.) Or, as soon as they would learn my other friend grew up in Russia, they would suddenly detect an accent. “Oh yes, I didn’t hear it before, but of course, yes, you do sound a little Russian.” Like magic, after three days of interacting with her and watching her present research, suddenly, she’s Russian. Suddenly, she’s labeled as “non-native”. And then the icing on the cake: “You don’t even look like a non-native speaker!”

Those feelings got stronger when I completed a Fulbright in Brazil.

Stories began to circulate among the Fulbright fellows about Brazilians constantly questioning their “native-ness” and consequently their right to be a Fulbright English teaching fellow. My closest friends in our group were a Puerto Rican guy, a black woman from the South, and an Ecuadorian-raised girl from Kentucky. The whole year, they felt they had to defend their native-ness because they also spoke Spanish or weren’t born in the States or didn’t “look like a native speaker”.

Those feelings got even stronger when I began to look for work in Brazil. Waiting for interviews with language schools and even multinational publishers, I felt defeated every time I sat down next to another candidate with little to no experience. But hey, they were native speakers too, so we were being considered for the same job. When I opened up my schedule for private students, they never once asked about my experience but rather only cared about where I was from, as if being born in a specific place qualified me to teach. The reality hit me that all my training and education may have been in vain. I thought back to my parents and the saying, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” I wondered if they ever felt this way.

Most recently, these feelings have become overwhelming.

I’ve seen students pay three times the market price for private lessons with unqualified native teachers and then believe they were “stupid” or “unable to learn languages” when they didn’t improve. I’ve watched as a white American pursuing his doctorate in science gained hundreds of thousands of Brazilian followers on YouTube by giving English tips. Recently, he quit his PhD program and started a crowdfunding campaign to get Brazilians to financially support him. His campaign platform states they should donate money because “he has the advantage of being a native speaker who speaks Portuguese” and “has lots of ideas”. In his video comments, learners say, “Great! Our Brazilian teachers never teach us these things!” (They try to, but you don’t listen.) If this isn’t a prime example of white privilege coupled with native speaker superiority, I don’t know what is.

This may sound harsh. After all, recognizing and accepting privilege is a hard task. And it’s even harder to move from acceptance to action. And what about people who just want to travel and make extra cash? Are they wrong to claim to be English teachers? And the Youtuber probably doesn’t realize NEST/NNEST issues even exist. I mean, he’s a scientist for heaven’s sake. Can we really hold him accountable for naïvely perpetuating the native speaker myth?

Yes, we can. And yes, I do. I do take teaching seriously. Teaching has been my life. It’s been my parents and grandparents lives. It’s my sister’s life.

Teaching will make or break a student’s life.

Wherever I go, I meet everyday English speakers who ask me “how I did it”. They want to travel, see the world, and ‘find themselves’, to be quintessentially American about it.

“I wanna do what you did,” they say.

“How do I do that?” they ask.

Then they conclude, “Where do you think I should teach English?”

Most days, I give my short, (now) prepared response that goes something like, “It’s a good idea to get training first––there are certificates and programs I can recommend––and try to do some research on work conditions, culture, and lifestyle before you agree to teach anywhere.”

But there are other days, days when I’ve had a set back at work or I’m tight on money or I’ve just watched someone make millions selling a secret method to learning English that is the spitting image of Krashen’s input hypothesis from 1985.

On those days, it takes every ounce of energy to not respond:

“How do you do this? Well, first you’ll pay to do a volunteer program. You’ll teach children how to tell jokes and build treehouses in English and teach their parents how to negotiate their salaries and defend themselves against foreign interests, but you’ll also be pretty poor for the next five years. Then you’ll need to work three jobs and get a research fellowship to complete a master’s in teaching English. After that, you’ll want more professional development, so apply for a competitive Fulbright fellowship in English teaching and English teacher training. Hopefully after a year and a half of interviews you’ll get it. Then, spend years making your class materials from scratch, on carbon paper or with markers, not just to get the hang of curriculum development but also because most schools have no resources or government support. Work for publishers, work for private schools, work for non-profits and public universities, but most of all, don’t forget to work as a bartender because that’s how you’ll actually pay your bills.”

In the end, when these feelings consume me, I remember. I remember English is my first language. I remember I’m a white middle-class American. I remember that if this is a frustrating experience for me, imagine what it must be like for a POC non-native English teacher looking for work in, say, any country.

And I remember how much I love teaching and love my students.

I’ve spent the last ten years surrounded by intelligent and patient NNEST peers and colleagues. Together, we’ve shared stories and unpacked the many ways native speakerism is yet another form of discrimination. We’ve brainstormed alternatives to “non-native”, feeling that a “non-” label and deficient model is part of the problem, and created professional development modules about how to educate students, teachers, and administrators about NNEST issues.

The native speaker myth results in the deprofessionalization of our field. But in much worse-case scenarios, it results in illegal hiring practices, fuels discrimination, and cheats students out of the opportunity to work with truly exceptional teachers. And these are issues that affect all of us.

christina-lorimer-4258_hi-res11254Christina Lorimer is a teacher trainer, materials writer, and certified language coach with an M.A. in TESOL and 13 years in the field. After teaching in the U.S., Costa Rica, and Brazil, she founded Step Stone Languages, an English for Specific Purposes school for autonomous learners focused on providing real-life materials that increase student motivation and decrease teacher burnout. She is also an author and editor of teacher guides for National Geographic Cengage Learning. In her free time, she loves hiking to waterfalls and playing with her one-year old niece.

What does a red phone box have to do with learning English in 2017? by Richard Willmsen

[From the editor: this post was originally published on Richard’s blog here and is republished here with his full consent]

One of my roles in life involves testing the English language to make sure it’s working properly. It’s in this capacity that I get to fly down to Mérida for a few days, eat sopa de lima and cochinita pibil in nice restaurants, and pay a visit to an excellent language school. It’s easy to find because it has a red phone box outside. Everyone I meet there is friendly and seems competent. The owners (both English, in their thirties) greet and chat to the students as they arrive; they seem to know their names and both speak very good Spanish. As for the teachers, they are young, cheerful, and seem to be mostly English.

The school, which goes by the name of the London Academy and has been open for around two years, is “the only British language school in Mérida with 100% qualified British teachers that offers a true British cultural experience”. The images on the walls show cool young people enjoying themselves in London. It’s unlike a lot of  ‘British’ schools I’ve worked at in the past in that there’s a refreshing lack of photos of Beefeaters and the Royal Family and the atmosphere is by no means austere and reserved as it is in some anglophone learning environments. Entering the school I worked at for several years in Lisbon was like going to the dentists: staid, forbidding and snobbish. The school in Mérida is selling an updated version of the UK. It certainly needs to stand out, because there are a lot of schools in that particular suburb. When I walk round the block I count another four. Some seem to be part of chains and most are selling themselves on cost: low prices, discounts if you pay upfront for online classes and year-long courses.

Ultimately it’s a question of marketing. What the London Academy is selling is a tourist experience. For the students (or at least for their parents) the school is a corner of a foreign field. They will be immersed in the classroom in an English-only environment with a representative of the target culture. What the teachers get is a reasonably-paid job and an experience of living abroad, one which gives them the chance to learn some of the language and, if they’re lucky, become friends, or possibly very good friends*, with some of the locals. Nowadays in the world of English language teaching this is quite a retro model. It is based on the promotion of the assumption that the teacher is a monolingual native speaker with no or little knowledge of the host culture. Bringing a new cohort of teachers over every year is very expensive at a time when there is more competition from schools which use other images and associations to promote the learning of English.

There also seems to be a growing recognition that the language study trips abroad business is similarly a branch of tourism. The school I worked at for several years in London has just been bought up by a language travel organisation. It is true that there is no easier environment to learn and teach in. The students get some experience of interacting in an English-speaking setting and they also make English-language friendships with each other. This doesn’t mean that they start watching Eastenders and spend every night down the rub-a-dub. Rather they bond over their dislike of the food, the absurd rents they have to pay and the hangovers they picked up (and the fellow students they didn’t) in bars and clubs where most other customers (and the staff) are also there to improve their English. This is perfectly natural; after all, on holiday, you tend to make friends with other tourists rather than the locals. Some students do arrive with the impression that it’s all about becoming “English” (which is a useful marketing illusion), but they soon knuckle down to the more important and less confusing task of developing an English-speaking life. It’s far more important for Mehmet, who lives in Istanbul and deals with Chinese people on the phone, to understand Wei Wei from Shandong than it is for him to understand what Russell Brand says**. As for the teacher, their job largely involves creating a environment conducive to social and cultural exchange, with their role a mix of tour guide, cultural mediator, facilitator and occasional counsellor.

Sadly, thanks to a combination of international competition in the education market, arbitrary and ill-thought-out changes to visa rules and the global economic situation, the language school industry in the UK (and London in particular) has taken a hammering over the last few years, with very well-established places going to the wall and the survivors getting snapped up by international concerns. It is also possible that over the next few years the international marketing of British English by institutions such as the British Council will encounter difficulties in a world which no longer views Britain as vibrant, mobile and welcoming but rather as insular, hostile and closed. Whereas most marketing of English courses tends to sell an image of mobility – in the words of an advert I saw recently, ‘Where can you go if you don’t know English?’ – all this talk of shutting borders is designed and destined to do permanent damage to one of the very remaining industries which the UK still dominates.

Another major change in the world of English language teaching is a shift away from the notion that native speakers automatically make better language teachers. That’s not to say that the assumption is by any means dead. Browsing websites advertising teaching jobs in Mexico recently I was shocked by the number of ads looking for ‘native speakers’ and specifying ‘no experience necessary’. I’d imagine that most people learning a language would want a teacher with experience. But the rationale for this never was pedagogical. Again, it’s more to do with marketing, to the extent that one term commonly used in China for a foreign teacher is ‘dancing monkey’. Anyone ‘foreign’ will do as long as they don’t have a Chinese face or name.

There seems to be growing acceptance nowadays that the best attribute a teacher can have is the ability to teach, regardless of where they happen to have been born. The spread of English as a lingua franca has led to a growing recognition that it does not ‘belong’ to any one national group. Indeed, it helps to have consciously learnt the language you’re teaching. Having done so gives the teacher insights into the learning experience which allow them to give their students shortcuts and to identify potential pitfalls and misunderstandings. Non-native teachers also make more realistic role models, as the old joke about an English learner saying that when he grows up he wants to be a native speaker acknowledges. Plus it’s also true that a ‘native’ level of English is not a desirable goal. In international settings it is often British, American and Australians who have most difficulty making themselves understood, given their reliance on irony and idioms which may be lost on people who don’t share their cultural background. The trend is partly driven by economic changes – although native speakers are more profitable, non-native teachers are cheaper – but it has a positive effect as better teachers find it easier to get work.

The notion of ‘native speaker’ is problematic in any case. I’m one of them, yet there are lots of lots of ‘foreigners’ who use(d) ‘my’ language better than I do: Conrad, Nabokov, Zizek and Varoufakis all spring immediately to mind. My Italian wife writes things in her job that are much better than anything I could produce***. The idea that a ‘native speaker’ is an exemplary model has given way to a focus on proficient, competent or expert speakers. Similarly, the category of ‘mother tongue’ speaker does not take account of people who grew up speaking one language at home and another at school. Ultimately, nation state and language are just not a very good fit, especially in relation to English.

I myself found out quickly in Portugal many years ago that in a monolingual EFL classroom it’s the monolingual teacher who has problems expressing what they want, especially when dealing with teenagers. Students know their own culture and can communicate perfectly well with each other. Hence they can run rings round a teacher who has little training and almost no experience of inspiring learning and imposing discipline. Such a relationship depends partly on the personality of the teacher and partly on their ability to assert their authority over the language on the basis of their national identity. Anyone who has taught in such a context will recognise the frustrations described by George Orwell in his story ‘Shooting an Elephant‘. It is all too common for fledgling (and sometimes veteran) EFL teachers to develop the attitude of a colonial policeman and to dismiss the ‘natives’ as lazy, stupid “evil-spirited little beasts” who are out to “make (your) job impossible”.

This doesn’t mean that teaching and learning is impossible in such a context but where it does take place it tends to be by accident. My own ‘teaching journey’ has taught me that any meaningful educational experience has to be based on cultural exchange. Every teacher who sticks at it works out eventually that if you’re not learning, you’re not teaching. The model I’ve been describing is about trying to impose one identity on another. What must take place instead is a recognition and validation of each others’ identities. This involves drawing on the students’ expert knowledge of their language, their experiences, expertise and social roles rather than dismissing all of the above and relying instead on a combination of communication games, bullying and luck.

I would like therefore to put forward five suggestions for roles that EFL teachers can usefully adopt in a monolingual teaching/learning environment:

  1. The students’ knowledge of their own language is an essential classroom resource. This means that both the teacher and the students sometimes need to play the role of translators. It also implies a ceding of control and a certain amount of humility on the part of the teacher. My students know their own languages better than I do and sometime meanings have to be negotiated and dictionaries referred to. This has the advantage of reflecting real language use; in any given human interaction where more than one language is involved discussions over corresponding forms, functions and meanings are ever-present and sometimes other authorities have to be invoked. Clearly there are activities where this is not appropriate, and the teacher needs to establish when and why only the target language should be used. In a cooperative environment with purposeful activities students will be happy to go along with this.
  2. Tip number 1 implies that the teacher should speak or be learning the language of their students. There are, bizarrely, language teachers who have no experience of learning another language or who have never done so successfully. Such teachers are not able to understand and relate to the frustrations and ritual humiliations their students are exposing themselves to. Several times in my teaching career I have been put on the spot by a student asking me to perform a task I have asked them to do. Such experiences have helped me to reflect on how useful and how ‘doable’ the activity I’m imposing is. Once, with a class of Italian teenagers who were traumatised by the prospect of their Trinity Exam, I did the task myself in very imperfect Italian, getting them to play the role of examiners. A light bulb went on. They realised that they didn’t need to be completely fluent and that it was fine to make mistakes as long as they basically made themselves understood. They all went on to pass the exam. In order to be a teacher you also need to be a learner. This is a role no teacher should ever stop playing; there are always new things to learn.
  3. If you are teaching in another country you are also a model of someone immersed, out of their depth, occasionally thrown in at the deep end, experiencing anxiety, and sometimes losing face. Your ability to articulate these feelings and reflect on those experiences in English will be better than that of your students****. This involves drawing on your own experiences.  This paragraph itself could generate a very useful lesson for students struggling to articulate their own experiences with the language. It doesn’t mean that the teacher is an exemplary language learner but as someone who learns and also thinks about language a lot you do have insights to offer.
  4. A teacher needs most of all to be a teacher, with a range of approaches and techniques to suit each particular class. Hence our role is not that of an oracle on our language and culture. Both students and teachers have gaps in their knowledge of the world. That is fine. A classroom can be a very useful place to identify things that we don’t know and to figure out how we can find out. It very often happens that I learn new things in English*****, and when that happens I point it out to my students. As a language teacher I know that some students fail to understand that one’s command of a language is never total. Pointing it out by using yourself as an example helps students to recognise that their English need not and can not ever be ‘perfect’. I am there in the classroom because of my teaching experience and ability, and not as a proxy for the Queen or for Cambridge University.
  5. Teachers should also facilitate sharing of emotional experiences. We can help the students visualise their learning experience and identify specific examples of progress. One excellent way to do this is to explore learning metaphors: are they on a journey, climbing a mountain, working out in a gym, hanging out with some friends once a week? In tackling such themes the teacher is playing the role of a counsellor. In order for this to be effective the teacher needs to work constantly on creating an encouraging and forgiving environment based on an ethic of cooperation rather than on shaming people who make mistakes.

These tips are written with the teaching of English in mind. Some of them also apply to other languages. For example, I can’t say that the list of characteristics of various French supermarkets I spent ninety minutes learning in an intermediate French class a few years ago has helped me a great deal when talking to recent Senegalese immigrants in Rome. The same applies to Spanish and to an extent Portuguese; there’s not much point learning to lithp or to use o senhor appropriately when you’re off to live in Mexico or Brazil. Some other-language courses I’ve encountered have confused language competence and grammatical knowledge, with little room for error and a very narrow definition of success. The teaching of English does have something to offer language teaching in general given that there is simply more practise and research taking place.

It’s different with, say, German, Italian, Japanese or Finnish, since almost all speakers of these languages are from those countries or have spent time there. Then learning things like the names of personalities and radio advertising jingles is important. At the moment I live in Italy, where what hinders my comprehension most is a lack of knowledge of the (admitedly very complex) culture. It is, however, only one of many possible experiences. In past I’ve tended to assume that my own learning experiences are the only or the ultimate model, which is clearly not the case.

Several years ago in London there was a best-selling book/CD for English language learners called ‘Get Rid Of Your Accent‘. The cover featured a woman who looked like Agatha Christie and sounded like Lord Reith’s elocutionist. As David Crystal points out, learners do need a pronunciation role model but the notion there is one way of speaking is absurd. People certainly need to have a command of Standard English, but in a globalised world intelligibility is the main issue. The same goes for local varieties of grammar. A former colleague used to teach his newly-arrived elementary students to ask everyone they met “What do you do work-wise?”, a question guaranteed to draw a blank look from Akiko from Kyoto. It can be useful to teach students to understand local accents in questions like ‘wotjado?’ and ‘naamean?’, but it’s pointless and unfair to ask them to speak in that way. Sometimes over the years my lessons have been about making students talk just like me. That,to briefly use a particularly British English term, is bollocks.

* In some cases, very many very close friends.

** Mind you, there’s a wonderful story about teaching TEFL from the man himself here.

*** This is not meant to suggest that I have a number of wives from different countries. Maybe I should ask her how to rephrase it to make it more clearer.

**** If it isn’t, you may have wandered into an INSET session by mistake.

***** Such as how to spell ‘bizarrely’.

richard-willmsenI’m an DELTA-qualified English teacher and IELTS examiner from the UK and I’ve taught in Ireland, the UK, Portugal, Spain, China and Mexico. I’m currently working at a university in Rome. I post regularly about EFL, languages, politics and whatever else takes my fancy at www.infinite-coincidence.com.

 

Native Speakers aren’t better – so don’t believe it by Elly Setterfield

[Note from the editor: this post was originally published on Elly’s blog here and is republished here with the full consent of the author]

When I started my blog The Best Ticher, I foolishly assumed that I was writing for an audience like my younger self: British (or perhaps American), relatively young (maybe one or two years out of university) who’d taken a TEFL course at least in part because it seemed like a good idea… and then who headed abroad to teach reluctant and terrified. I’ve realised however as my readership has grown that this is only a small part of my audience; there are lots of you out there who are non-native English speakers, working in your home country or trying to navigate the tricky world of visa applications  and not having ‘the right’ passport.

A couple of weeks ago, a teacher emailed me asking for advice (you can do that by the way – my email is on the ‘About’ page). As I highly doubt she’s the only one in this position, my answer evolved into this blog post. So how can a non-native speaker teacher feel more confident speaking English in the classroom?

Students want native-speaker teachers, don’t they?

The honest answer here is ‘not necessarily’. It’s become almost standard practice for language schools to advertise their native speaker teachers as a selling point, and this has a knock-on effect. Schools tell their students that they should want to learn from native-speakers, that native-speakers are better, online teachers sell themselves first and foremost as being native speakers… and so it’s hardly surprising that students have taken this on board. ‘Native English speaker’ has become just another marketing buzzword (as highlighted by the online advert I saw earlier this week: a ‘native English speaker’ advertising their services as an English teacher, written in what was, at best, intermediate level English). To some extent, yes, students want native-speaker teachers… but this is because they’ve been told to, rather than down to any kind of factual research.
Let’s not forget that in many countries, the profile of the ideal ‘English teacher’ extends to cover far more than native language. A friend of mine (white, native English speaker, South African) was asked to lie to students about her nationality and tell them that she was British. Fantastic teachers I’ve worked with who happen to not fit the ‘fair-skinned’ ideal have had their expertise as teachers questioned and been rejected by students on account of the colour of their skin. The world of TEFL (and TEFL recruitment) is unfortunately unethical and discriminatory… and it’s only slowly that this is starting to change.

All of this paints a pretty damning picture – but as mentioned, the situation is changing. In 2011, International House stated that their schools would no longer specifically recruit native-speaker teachers, and more and more jobs boards (and recruiters) are starting to reject the principle that native speaker equals more desirable teacher.

If you’re interested in some more in-depth reading (and what to see for yourself exactly what students thing, Ahmar Mahoob’s paper offers some real food for thought, including lots of direct quotes from students. You’ll see that in some cases students regard non-native speaker teachers as better than native speakers!

In my experience, students’ first priority is to learn. As long as you’re a good teacher, who cares what your native language is?

For a more detailed analysis of the ‘native speaker preference’ check out Andrew Woodbury’s excellent article.

Don’t native speakers make better teachers?

Think of a renowned scientist or academic. Are they necessarily equipped to go into a school and teach their subject? The same holds true for English teaching. Teaching encompasses a whole range of skills aside from just ‘knowing the language’ – if you’re ever in any doubt of that please watch this comedy sketch by Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington. Would any lesson you teach be more appropriately graded, better structured, and have better explanations than what these guys come up with? Then you already have proof that you’re a better English teacher than someone whose sole qualification is to be a native speaker.

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Designed by @teflninja

I’ve spoken English my whole life – but had to work hard throughout my first couple of years of teaching to understand grammar in such a way that I could present it and explain it to my students. It’s all very well to be able to say ‘this is correct, and this isn’t’, but in order to teach a language you need to understand the nuts and bolts of it. Here, being a non-native speaker can actually be a huge advantage, as you’ve likely had to learn the language in a similar way to your students! As a non-native speaker of English, you’re automatically going to have a greater insight into what students are going to find challenging, what they’ll be confused by and what’s actually pretty straightforward. A native speaker will have to research all of those things – or find them out through trial and error.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with some excellent non-native speaker teachers throughout my career, and one thing that’s always struck me is how inspiring they can be for their students. At my first school, our Director of Studies was a non-native speaker – who had started her English studies as a child at the very school we worked at. How encouraging is that?! As a non-native speaker, you have the ability to show your students just what they can achieve – because you practise what you preach every day.
As a final note, if you still needed some more evidence that being a native speaker makes you a better teacher, check out what my students said. From time-to-time I always like to ask my students what they think makes a good teacher (I repeated a version of this activity recently with my adult elementary class) – and whilst they have said ‘you must speak English’, no student has ever specified that a good teacher must be British, or American, or even a native-English speaker.

How can I feel more confident?

Hopefully realising that your students don’t necessarily want native-speaker teachers, and that being a native-speaker doesn’t automatically qualify you to be a better teacher is already making you feel more confident. But what can you do to give yourself an extra boost?

  • Fake it til you make it. There’s a lot to be said for acting confident, even if you don’t always feel it. Using positive body language, rehearsing what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it, and even simply going into the classroom with a positive outlook can make a real difference in how confident you appear – and ultimately how confident you feel.
  • Build your confidence in the language. It should hopefully go without saying that as teachers, we should never stop learning. Consider studying for an exam (maybe IELTS or CAE/CPE), and above all, practise, practise, practise. As you grow more confident in using the language in general, it follows that you’ll grow more confident in using it in the classroom too.
  • Experiment, be yourself, and have some fun. Being able to laugh at your own mistakes helps! I asked non-native speaker friends and colleagues for advice while writing this post, and this was some of the best advice I was given. Remember that being a teacher is so much more than simply your knowledge of the language, and your students will appreciate your being yourself.

You can find some more tips on how to be a more confident teacher here.

But what if I make mistakes?

I’ll let you into a secret: I make mistakes too! From my early attempts at grading language where I realised I was missing out articles and actually saying things that were grammatically incorrect, to the sleepy coffee-free Monday morning not so long ago where I spectacularly stuffed up a grammar explanation… we all make mistakes from time to time.

If you do make a mistake, be honest about it – much of this advice also holds true here. Then take a deep breath and move on; the absolute worst thing you can do is to beat yourself up over it.

What can I do to improve my English?

First of all, think about what you’d recommend for your students! Teaching gives you a real advantage here, as it means you have a much clearer idea of what works and what doesn’t. If you’re still looking for some advice, here’s what I’d recommend:

  • Practise! It probably goes without saying, but to confidently use English in the classroom, the key is practise, practise, practise. Although reading and writing in English will doubtless be helpful, I’d recommend focusing slightly more on speaking and listening, as these skills are what you’re going to be using in class on a daily basis.
  • Watch films/TV/listen to the radio or podcasts. Depending on your work context, it might be difficult to get lots of exposure to fluent spoken English. The internet is your friend! I recommend to almost all of my students that they find films or a TV series they like, and regularly watch them in English. If TV isn’t your thing, how about listening to the radio or English-language podcasts – you can even do it while you’re at the gym, on public transport, or doing the housework.
  • Use English as much as possible. Put all your electronic devices into English, write shopping lists/to-do lists in English, even switch your ‘internal monologue’ into English and talk to yourself (either in your head or out loud) – exposing yourself to the language as much as possible will make you feel far more confident in using it.
  • Teach ‘mock’ lessons. This might be a bit of a weird one, but hear me out. In teaching, some of the language we use can be quite different to what we encounter in every day life, and the only real way to practice it is by teaching. This can help you to rehearse parts of explanations or giving instructions for a task. If you don’t have a willing friend or family member that you can teach a small section of something to, I find both pets and teddy bears to be helpful substitutes (with the added advantage that they don’t answer back!).
  • Take a course. If you’ve got time and money available to you (let’s face it, no one went into EFL teaching in order to get rich), you might want to take a course. If you want to take something that’s specifically aimed at English language teachers, here are some offered by TEFL Equity Advocates, as well as this one by Future Learn. There’s also a recording of a great webinar on language development for teachers here.

How do I get a job with the ‘wrong’ passport?

As a Brit I’m all too aware that I’m not in the best position to offer advice – but I can point you in the direction of people who can.

TEFL Equity Advocates – this is an absolutely fantastic website, full of advice, articles, and resources. This site has been the source of several of the articles I’ve linked to in this post, and I wish I’d been able to link to even more of them! For your sanity I won’t, but please, if you do one thing, check out this site.

If you’re a regular user of Facebook, you might want to check out their official facebook page, or this group for non-native speaker teachers.

Although it might seem like you’re fighting a losing battle, please don’t give up – keep fighting. Hopefully one day in the not too distant future the TEFL world will become one of equal opportunity for everyone.

elly-setterfieldElly Setterfield is an English teacher, blogger and writer. She has taught in private language schools and primary schools in Russia, the Czech Republic and the UK, and is passionate about helping new teachers feel happier, less stressed and more confident in the classroom. When she’s not teaching, she enjoys cooking, running, spending time outdoors and crochet. She blogs regularly at thebestticher.wordpress.com, and tweets @thebestticher.

Native-speakerism and the complexity of personal experience: A duoethnographic study

‘Native speakers’ are better at teaching speaking and should be given conversational and high level classes, right? They can’t tell a verb from a noun, though, so don’t ask them to teach any grammar.

‘Non-native speakers’ know the grammar better and since they know the students’ L1, they should teach lower levels, right? They’re never proficient enough, though, so don’t give them advanced groups.

Stereotypes, misconceptions and prejudices about ‘native’ and ‘non-native speaker’ teachers such as the ones above are rife in our profession. If you join any discussion on the topic, you’re bound to see more than one.

When we talk about native speakerism, we also frequently think that it always benefits ‘native speakers’. They get better jobs. They’re paid more. They get to travel around the world. However, this is just one side of the coin.

While native-speakerism has gained much attention in recent years, the complex ways in which it influences the lives and career trajectories of individual teachers has often been overlooked. So in this newly published paper Robert Lowe from the TEFLology podcast and Marek Kiczkowiak from TEFL Equity Advocates show how things such as geography, teaching context and personal disposition can affect the influence that native-speakerism has on the careers of teachers. The paper is titled “Native-speakerism and the complexity of personal experience: A duoethnographic study” and was published in the journal Cogent Education. In it, they take an innovative dialogic approach where the voices and personal experiences of the two authors come to the fore.

The article is open access which means anyone anywhere can access, download and share it completely for free. You can read the article here, or by copying and pasting this link to your browser: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/2331186X.2016.1264171

And if you enjoyed it, please Tweet it, Facebook it, Instagram it: social-media it around. And leave us a comment here too. We’d love to hear what you think.

Reference:

Lowe, R.J. & Kiczkowiak, M. (2016). Native-speakerism and the complexity of personal experience: A duoethnographic study. Cogent Education 3 (1): 1254171. Available on-line: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/2331186X.2016.1264171

Recruiting for diversity: a NNS/NS diversity based recruitment policy by Andy Hockley

Note: This is the second of two blog posts. The first sought to explain what diversity is all about and why it is important, and specifically why it is important in our context in language teaching organisations (and indeed what it should mean to us).  This one, the second, is intended to offer some ideas about how we can think about our hiring policies and practices such that we ensure a diverse group of teachers and other staff.

Recruiting for Diversity

An NNS/NS diversity based recruitment policy

In the previous post, hopefully I managed to make it clear why diversity – in all its forms – is something we should strive for. This diversity is a two stage process – firstly an ethical and diversity focussed recruitment policy, and secondly a genuinely inclusive and open communication process as in any learning organisation.

Here, I will be looking at the first of these, the creation of an ethical recruitment policy and set of practices. The second question – that of building a genuine learning organisation – requires more space than a simple blog post will permit.

Surprisingly, perhaps, it is not quite as simple as making it a policy to hire a mixture of native and non-native speakers, or indeed any other policy that promotes a diversity-based recruitment policy. Clearly that is a good first step, and one that needs to be taken if your language teaching organisation (LTO) doesn’t already have such a policy. But even with such a policy we have a number of cognitive biases that are an obstacle to truly making unbiased hiring decisions. We base decisions on our own experiences and often our own autobiography. We also find it very hard, if we are a member of a privileged group, to recognise that privilege. We like to believe that we got where we are through merit alone.  When the status quo is challenged we (those of us of privilege) feel attacked.   This, unfortunately, feels more true today than it ever has, in the year of Brexit and Trump’s election. Bias affects everyone, not just those who are proud of that fact, but also those of us who like to see ourselves as free of any form of prejudice. In short, we are biased, regardless of good intentions or awareness.

Research conducted in firms that championed diversity found that actually during hiring decisions, any of these unconscious biases came to the fore. When candidates were asked to solve maths problems (in the banking sector, for example), men were assumed to be “having a bad day” if they got something wrong, whereas for women it was an indication of a lack of ability. In other examples,  white men who were shy or nervous were seen as modest, whereas non-whites were seen as unassertive. (Burrell, 2016)

In our context, I’ve heard academic managers who are recruiting teachers say that they’d rather hire someone with a CELTA than someone with a three year degree from a pedagogical university. Now it’s possible that there are reasonable reasons for this – some such degrees have no practical component, whereas with someone who has successfully passed the CELTA you know you’re getting someone who’s survived under pressure and has spent, well, 6 hours in the classroom. But be sure, is this decision founded upon genuine reasons or is it simply that “I went through the CELTA, I understand this route into teaching, because it’s just like mine, and therefore I’m comfortable with it”?

So, within your hiring systems you need, as much as possible, to try and remove that bias from the process.  You can do this in part through software – famously, for example, Google uses algorithms as part of its  hiring process – which can remove the possibility that you, the person making the decision, will be unconsciously influenced by something you see on the applicant’s CV, such as name, age, background, and so on – the list of possible things that can subtly touch your inner biases is almost endless!  At present these pre-built software solutions may be beyond the reach of most LTOs, but it is worth looking at what Google or GapJumpers, say, are doing to eliminate bias to see if it can be replicated in some way in your own context.

Once you begin interviewing, you need to be much more structured. In short, stop going with your instinct.  You instinct is biased.  Ask everyone the same questions and in the same order. Make sure (as much as it is humanly possible) to make the process as systematic and objective as you can. Ideally, have an interview panel, which will again reduce the level of subjectivity. We work in education – we know that we can’t rank students’ ability on their answers to entirely different questions, so why do we still do this in interviews?

The key here is to ask the same questions in the same order – and to note down our responses to their answers after each question, not only at the end of the interview. That way we can compare like with like – what everyone said in response to Question 2, for example.

Finally if you find you are choosing between two roughly equally qualified candidates for the same job, then accept that you have biases and choose the one that represents “diversity” more than the other.  I know that sounds like some form of bias in the other direction, but that’s the only way you break down bias. If you’re playing darts and you consistently throw lower than the target you’re aiming at, the only way to counteract that is to aim higher. Higher than feels natural, higher than feels right. Only then will you start breaking out of the habit of shooting low.

In conclusion, diversity (in all its aspects) is important. Many years’ worth of studies show that it improves performance, decisions making, creativity, innovation and flexibility. In our profession, diversity includes hiring non-native speaker teachers as much as it does anything else.  By discriminating in favour of native speaker teachers (whether consciously or unconsciously) we are not helping our own organisations and failing our students.

hockley5042Andy Hockley is the co-ordinator of IATEFL’s Leadership and Management SIG (LAMSIG) and is a freelance educational management consultant and trainer based in deepest Transylvania. He has been training (both teachers and managers) for 20 years and has been coordinating and training on the IDLTM (International Diploma in Language Teaching Management) since its inception in 2001. He is co-author of ‘From Teacher to Manager’ (CUP, 2008), ‘Managing Education in the Digital Age’ (The Round, 2014) and author of ‘Educational Management’ (Polirom, 2007).

Bibliography & Further Reading

Bock, L. (2015) Work rules!: Insights from inside Google that will transform how you live and lead. United States: Grand Central Publishing.

Bohnet, I. (2016) How to take the bias out of interviews. Available at: https://hbr.org/2016/04/how-to-take-the-bias-out-of-interviews (Accessed: 11 November 2016).

Burrell, L. (2016) We just can’t handle diversity. Available at: https://hbr.org/2016/07/we-just-cant-handle-diversity (Accessed: 24 August 2016).

Morse, G. (2016) Designing a bias-free organization. Available at: https://hbr.org/2016/07/designing-a-bias-free-organization (Accessed: 24 August 2016).

PolicyTerms, A.P. and ConditionsDisclaimerCandidates’Security (2015) Diversity in the workplace benefits employers. Available at: http://www.adecco.co.uk/news/diversity-in-the-work-place.aspx (Accessed: 19 August 2016).

Diversity in recruitment – why should we seek it? by Andy Hockley

Note: This is the first of two blog posts. The first seeks to explain what diversity is all about and why it is important, and specifically why it is important in our context in language teaching organisations (and indeed what it should mean to us).  The second, to follow, will talk about how we can think about our hiring policies and practices such that we ensure a diverse group of teachers and other staff.

What is diversity and why should we seek it?

An introduction to diversity

Diversity in organisations involves hiring and supporting a workforce of people with differences. The typical range of differences mentioned and referred to in the literature include race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical abilities and economic backgrounds. The idea of a diverse workplace is that employees work together to create a culture of inclusiveness, where all employees feel valued.

Being part of a diverse organisation has many benefits. One of the most obvious is that an organisation with a diverse range of experiences and points of view to draw from will inevitably have a greater range of approaches to dealing with possible problems or new challenges.  This also clearly illustrates why diversity is not merely about hiring practices – a diverse organisation will not benefit from its diversity if employees are not listened to and have no voice.

Diversity in language teaching organisations

In addition to the differences mentioned above which are meant to be tackled by diversity policies, I would suggest that in language teaching organisations (LTOs), and particularly in the teaching staff, we need also to ensure (as much as possible) a diversity of first language speakers.  Specifically, a mix of native and non-native speaker teachers. I am, of course, aware that the vast majority of LTOs around the world do not have the option of having such a mix, as they can only possibly hire local non-native speaker teachers – this is of course the reality of many contexts. However, for language schools that do have the option of hiring native speaker teachers, the aim should be to hire a diverse teaching body – meaning some native speakers and some non-native speakers – as well as diversity in race, gender, age, etc.

But, why is this form – that is to say speakers of different languages – of diversity important? Why is striking a balance of non-native and native speakers teachers so valuable? There are 4 main reasons

  1. Staffroom Sharing

The great benefit of diversity is having a diverse body of experiences to draw from. It is in staffroom interactions – teachers sharing ideas, getting suggestions, brainstorming ways of dealing with certain students and certain lesson aims – that this is most obviously valuable in the academic side of an LTO. Non-native speakers contribute greatly to these conversations – not only through their own experiences as teachers and as trainee teachers (frequently non-native speaker teachers have gone through much more in depth training than native speakers), but also through their own experiences in learning the target language in the first place. These professional conversations that occur in the better staffrooms are immeasurably enriched by the presence of non-native speaker teachers.

  1. Student Learning

It is difficult to research the effects of different factors on student learning as so many variables come into play. However, there is a slowly growing body of research into the effects of ethnic diversity in the teaching body into student learning in LTOs. The findings of these studies tend to show that there are benefits in having a diverse teaching body because (a) teachers from the “mainstream” privileged groups tend to have lower expectations of students – which in turn tends to result in lower student achievement; and (b) members of minority ethnic groups in the teaching body have a greater understanding of ethnic minority learners’ cultural experiences, and they are better able to serve as role models (Donlevy, Meierkord, and Rajania, 2016).

We cannot simply transpose these early research findings over to the non-native/native speaker question, but it would seem – especially in the case of (b) above – to make sense to at least consider (and research) the benefits that having non-native speaker teachers have on student achievement.

It is also important to note that research has been conducted into students’ attitude towards native speaker and non-native speaker teachers and concluded that students do not have a preference for one over the other (see articles on this site)

  1. Organisational Culture

As with any form of diversity, having a more diverse workforce has a positive impact on organisational culture. Having a variety of viewpoints, a variety of backgrounds, a variety of skillsets, enhances the organisational learning as well as the potential personal mastery of all.

In addition, in many “onshore” LTOs, the commonly observed organisational divide between academic and administrative sides of the school is exacerbated when all the teachers are expatriate native speakers.  A diverse teaching body makes a huge difference in this instance. (By “onshore” in this context, I mean language schools whose market is local, where the languages taught are not – usually – the languages of the country or region in which they are located.  An English language teaching school in Spain, for example, or a school teaching Spanish in Brazil.  By contrast an “offshore” LTO is one for which the market is elsewhere, such as a school teaching English in Australia to students wishing to study in universities there.)

  1. Societal Benefits

The message our organisations promote when they truly embrace diversity is not to be ignored. Offshore LTOs help with promoting wider integration in society when they employ truly ethical hiring practices. Onshore LTOs, on the other hand, provide a model for people in the community to aspire to.

In addition:

Finally, a growing body of literature investigates how the demographic make-up of public organisations affects policy outputs, often focusing on the theory of representative bureaucracy. This literature suggests that public sector organisations (such as schools) are more likely to formulate and implement policies that are in the interest of the service recipients (such as pupils) when they mirror the target population on key demographic dimensions, such as race or ethnicity. (Donlevy, Meierkord, and Rajania, 2016)

I hope that you will see the value, therefore of having a diverse workplace – in all ways. Be they related to race, sexuality, age, gender, ability, socio-economics, and in our particular context, first language.

In my second post, I’ll suggest some ideas regarding recruitment policies and practices that can help to build a more diverse workplace.

hockley5042Andy Hockley is the co-ordinator of IATEFL’s Leadership and Management SIG (LAMSIG) and is a freelance educational management consultant and trainer based in deepest Transylvania. He has been training (both teachers and managers) for 20 years and has been coordinating and training on the IDLTM (International Diploma in Language Teaching Management) since its inception in 2001. He is co-author of ‘From Teacher to Manager’ (CUP, 2008), ‘Managing Education in the Digital Age’ (The Round, 2014) and author of ‘Educational Management’ (Polirom, 2007).

Bibliography & Further Reading

Native Speaker Privilege and Unprofessionalism within the ESL Industry by Kevin Hodgson 

These days, there is a lot of talk about privilege, particularly white male privilege, in English language media.  It is argued that people who fit these racial and gender profiles receive institutional benefits because they “…resemble the people who dominate the powerful positions in our institutions” (Kendall, 2002, p. 1).  However, others have argued that the term is problematic because the issue of inequity is much more dynamic or overlapping and ignores other important variables such as social and economic class.  A quick perusal of the comments section on any online article dealing with the topic will immediately reveal just how strongly opinionated people are on either side of the debate; it has only helped to create even more divisiveness in societies that are already ideologically separated by an ever growing political schism of conservatism vs. liberalism. 

Seen from a global perspective, however, one wonders why no mention is even given to another form of privilege in the English speaking media, one that affects over 7 billion people worldwide: native speakerism.  According to Peggy McIntosh (1998), white males believe that their privileges are “conditions of daily experience” universally available to all, but they are in reality, however, “unearned power conferred systematically”. Now, couldn’t the same statement be made about people who are born in countries where English is the native language, or more specifically, in Kachru’s ‘inner circle nations such as Britain, Canada or the United States of America?  Whether it is in competition for a career job with a successful international corporation or simply traveling overseas for pleasure, native English speakers, regardless of race or gender, always have an advantage, and, therefore, have privilege over those who are not.

There are many countries in the world, like Japan for example, where people who wish to attend a University must study English for 12 years and then pass an English language exam before they can even take their first course, and then, if they decide to have a professional career such as an engineer when they graduate, they must have a higher level of reading proficiency than the average native English speaker in order to keep up to date with the most current literature in their field. Similarly, in many other countries, like those in the Arabian Gulf, the situation is even more daunting because the person hoping to go to University not only has to pass an English Language entrance exam but also must study almost all faculty subjects in English.  If these non-native speakers then hope to compete for a career position with a successful, international corporation, they may have to compete with a native English speaker for whom a high level proficiency in a subsequent language was most likely an option rather than an obligation (while native speaking university students can focus on mastering their individual subject matter, non-native speakers must also master a foreign language, often one that is linguistically antithetical to her or his own, in addition to their major or study their major in a subsequent language).  Language acquisition requires an enormous investment of time, effort and finance, and the luxury of not having to make that investment is certainly a privilege that most people in the world have not been granted.

Even the simple and enjoyable act of traveling has numerous taken-for-granted privileges for native speakers. For as long as they are traveling to a popular tourist destination, the average native English speaker will not have to utter a single syllable in the local language in order to have their needs met, whereas most non-native speakers are going to have to learn some basic “survival” English in order to get past customs, make accommodation reservations, and, yes, even eat, a linguistic conundrum that very few native speaking travelers have had to experience. Personally, when I travel overseas, I always try to learn some local vocabulary and expressions prior to my trip.  I do this not only because I am an applied linguist and interested in languages but also because I am aware of my native speakerist privilege and try to show a little respect, something very few of my fellow native speakers seem to do.  This has become evident by the reactions of surprise I have received from locals when I simply ask them a one sentence question in their language before blabbing away in English: “Excuse me, do you speak English?”  It really doesn’t take much effort to learn one sentence, but you’d be surprised how many of my fellow native speaking colleagues even bother to do that much when they travel abroad.

Speaking of my colleagues, if native English speakers enjoy numerous privileges studying, working and traveling in international contexts, then Native speaking English language instructors enjoy extraordinary special privileges, particularly with attaining employment; it has been well documented that many, if not a majority of, employers of English language instructors adopt discriminatory hiring practices against non-native speakers (Mahboob & Golden, 2013).  What is not documented, however, but is plainly obvious to anyone who works in this field, is that a very large percentage of these native English speakers are also mono-lingual.  In my own personal experience, I have been working in this field for almost 17 years in 3 different countries, and I can state without hesitation that, generally speaking, mono-lingualism and mono-culturalism are the norm for the majority of native speakers I have worked with or met. This is very disturbing precisely because it shows how much the applied linguistics profession is affected by, and consequently condones and encourages, native-speakerist privilege.   After all, ESL is concerned with not only teaching English, but teaching it as a subsequent language, and, therefore, the personal experience of having acquired one should be a logical pre-requisite to teach; how many other professions would allow people to do a job without any personal and practical experience?  Moreover, having subsequent language proficiency only enhances a language’s instructor’s credentials because it increases their ability to meet their students’ affective and pedagogical needs. Instructors with subsequent language acquisition, particularly in their students’ mother tongue in EFL contexts, are more qualified to conduct contrastive analysis, adopt teaching practices that are context sensitive, and, most importantly, empathize with their students and act as a model of a successful language learner, thereby enhancing student motivation while simultaneously reducing accusations of adhering to ethnocentric pedagogical practices (Hodgson, 2008).

Personally, I would very much like to expose the depth of native-speakerist beliefs within this profession by conducting research on monolingual native speakers with regard to this topic.  However, inaction is less a result of my own lethargy but rather acknowledgement that any such attempt would be futile; it would be extremely difficult to get such people even to participate in such a study, and, if there were willing participants, it would be even harder to get them to do so honestly.  I believe I can assert this claim with confidence because of my experience with my native speaking colleagues over the years, especially when they have discovered my strong feelings against native-speakerism. 

Although the personal anecdotes from throughout my career are numerous, I will share only a few that I feel are the most revealing. Once when I was in an interview for a managerial position and my research interests became the topic of discussion, I was asked by one of the interviewers if my research findings would affect my hiring practices.  After replying in the affirmative, the interviewer then asked me how I felt about hiring all Indian instructors because they were willing to work for so much less.  I understand the point that the interviewer was trying to make, but to me it was irrelevant, and I responded that qualifications should be the main requirement and instructors should receive the same remuneration regardless of their passport or place of birth.  Nothing more about the matter was said and the interview switched to another line of query (for the reader’s interest, I did not get the job; however, I am honest and willing to admit that I may have had other shortcomings that resulted in the final decision).

Another time, after I had one of my manuscripts published, I was confronted by a mono-lingual native speaking colleague who disagreed strongly with my findings and related opinions.  The article in question dealt with the negative psycho-linguistic affect of adopting native speaker models of linguistic competence in English language teaching (Hodgson, 2014).  During the lengthy and uncomfortable conversation, it became evident that this colleague had read only the conclusion (even though teaching research skills at a tertiary institution was part of this person’s professional responsibilities!).  Whatever I said to this person simply feel on deaf ears and I was told very tersely that I was wrong and that only native English speakers are the most qualified to teach the English language.  Realizing it was impossible even to debate the matter with my interlocutor, I ended the discussion by suggesting that my colleague conduct research and then submit findings to a peer-reviewed journal for publication.  Although this confrontation with this person was a very unpleasant experience, it remains an even bitter memory because this person was well known for prioritizing personal financial gain over professional responsibilities by leaving campus during official working hours for supplementary IELTS work.

I mention these two examples because I believe they illustrate the crux of the matter; the affirmation of native-speakerist beliefs, and the corresponding privileges that accompany them, continues to provide unquestioned legitimacy for the financial security of mono-lingual, native speaking instructors in general and the relaxed, professionally inactive ones in particular; so long as both the general public and employers, students and teachers, all buy into the native-speaker fallacy, then the status quo will remain unquestioned, and, consequently, the main qualification of, and justification for, the native-speaking instructor’s professional and financial position will be his or her ‘nativeness’.  However, so long as this continues, we cannot justifiably consider applied linguistics a profession; without a universally accepted system of employment based solely on merit and ability, our profession can only be classified as an unethical industry in which the consumers have been convinced by unscrupulous advertising to buy a lesser quality product at an overpriced cost. 

If the main method to combat white privilege is through reflection and acknowledgement of the privilege and then its abolition (Kendall, 2002), then perhaps this tactic could be applied to native speaker privilege as well. For this to happen, however, it will require acknowledgement among native English speakers about their privilege (which, in turn, will require them to cease viewing division through their domestic lenses (at least temporarily) and see their shared privilege in international contexts), and resistance among non-native learners to support institutions financially that support the prolongation of such privileges.  The issue of native-speakerism has been discussed for decades now, and too many native speaker instructors have unjustly benefited from it while too many non-native learners and teachers have been unethically disadvantaged by it.  It is time to put theory into practice and make applied linguistics the respectful profession it deserves to be.

kevinKevin Hodgson has been teaching English at both the secondary and tertiary levels in Canada, Japan and the U.A.E for 15 years.  He holds a Master’s Degree in Applied Linguistics from Brock University, Canada, and his current research interests are in the fields of native-speakerism and psycho-linguistics..

References

  • Hodgson, K. (2008). Unloading the native speaking EFL instructor’s burden: The correlation between knowledge of students’ language and culture and the ability to meet their affective and pedagogical needs. Retrieved from here 
  • Hodgson, K. (2014). Mismatch: Globalization and Native Speaker Models of Linguistic Competence, RELC Journal.45 (2), 113-134.
  • Kendall, F. (2002). Understanding White Privilege. Retrieved from here. 
  • Mahboob & Golden, (2013). Looking for Native Speakers of English Discrimination in English Language Teaching Job Advertisements, Voices in Asia Journal, 1 (1), 72-81. 
  • McIntosh, P. (1988). White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through  Work in Women’s Studies.  Retrieved from here.